Saturday, August 22, 2009

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year or, Geeks Like Me

I believe that we homeschoolers who say, "when are you starting school?" have the wrong idea. What do I say to that? "Ummm...I started about eight years ago and have been going strong every day since. Wait...there were those two days when I had a stomach virus and didn't get out of bed. Other than that, we've been homeschooling pretty much every day." I say this tongue in cheek because I believe that we are called to be in a constant state of teaching and training our children, and that "homeschooling" is a misnomer. It implies that we've allowed the cultural concept of how we should educate our children creep into our minds -- 17 years and countless hours of firsthand training and indocrination have nothing to do with this, of course. And this is not to offend the wonderful teachers who taught me and helped to form my life and develop the way I think about things (thanks, Fran!). I loved them all. But...since now I have a choice in the matter, I believe that education that is home based is in many cases the premier choice for cultivating a whole person, both whole parent and whole child. "Homeschoolers" from classical educators to unschoolers share this notion in spite of their vast differences in style. So for lack of better terminology at the moment, I'll identify with the sector of society best known as "homeschoolers" in spite of my subtle disagreement with the label; and the notion of "starting school" implies taking textbooks out again to start working on that kind of learning again.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a homeschool snob. I know what they mean. There's the natural rhythm of life. There comes that time of year when you just can't go anymore and you stash away the books and the whining and the routine because you're feeling a little burnt out on phonics and science projects and crafts...if you like that sort of thing. Then, you enjoy the learning that comes from critter-hunting, garden-growing, beach-combing, and campfire-lighting. It's a different kind of school entirely, but every bit as important. But somewhere around this time of year, perhaps because the leaves are showing just a tinge of red,

or perhaps because everyone around you is shopping on tax-free weekend, that question comes, "So, when are you guys going to start?" I have gotten so many different answers, from "Oh, I just can't face it. Maybe never." to the very firm, but late "Sept. 14th." We're "starting" on August 31st. What that means exactly, I'm never quite sure. It means a slight variation in our routine, in which the kids practice piano first thing in the morning and do math pages and listen to stories and do copywork and learn cursive and history and science-y type things. It means I get to relive my childhood anticipation for the first day of school all over again, but on a grander scale. I get to laminate memory cards (no home educating family should be without a laminator) and plan which science experiments and history projects we're going to do. I get to buy notebook paper and notebooks and pencils and pencil boxes and backpacks. I haven't figured out why my kids need backpacks yet, but they're cute and fun and they pack their clothes in them when we have overnights with friends.

Today I deep cleaned the basement in anticipation for our "start." It's an annual ritual of cleaning out old junk, making sure last years papers are filed away properly, books are neatly placed on the shelves, and the carpet is steam-cleaned (Please note--this is not standard. It's my own personal OCD thing with clean floors.) The planning is nearly done. The books have nearly all arrived via the friendly UPS man. The lesson planning and goal setting is very nearly complete.

Matty said to me for the first time in his life, "Mom, I can hardly wait." I said, "Wait for what, Buddy?" He said, "For school to start. I didn't feel that way before but I do now. You get better at it every year." Wow. I almost did an unsolicited, involuntary flip right there on the spot.

Bipolar Gardening, or, a Sad Tale of Neglect

And I don't mean like "two poles"--that would be great...maybe I'd have some more beans or peas or something growing. No, I mean that I have a double standard in my garden: one for the yard and one for the deck. Now, this year was our first foray into gardening. We have sincerely enjoyed it, but truthfully we haven't had a great harvest. I would even expect that we should have a LOT more tomatoes than we've had, but I've concluded that our soil is not rich enough yet. It is not composted with more than just purchased leaf compost (our own composts were not done yet, but next year, look out!) So we've had some very delicious tomatoes, just not a huge amount, like I was expecting out of 12 tomato plants. We have a zucchini plant, but have not had even one zucchini from it. We have a pumpkin plant that has overtaken the yard, but only three pumpkins. A cucumber plant that has grown up the fence but only produced three cucumbers. Our peas and beans produced about enough for a salad. Hmph. And this is the garden we've tended carefully. It's been a fun learning experience, but I want to do better next year.

On the other hand, I have utterly neglected my deck flowers. Truthfully, it gets so blazing hot out there on the deck that I hate to set foot out there during the day. Furthermore, I am usually so eager to see how my vegetables are doing I forget my little pots of flowers and fail to water them. this is the result:

I feel as though I ought to be punished somehow by the gardening authorities. It is just not in my nature to allow something to die for no reason. I would like to make a vow not to allow this to happen next year, but vows never suit me either (except the important ones, you know, like marriage). So I'm simply going to try much harder on my deck next year and hopefully have something more beautiful to show for it. Let's face it, I'm not the Pioneer Woman, at least not yet.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Beach Day for City Kids

A friend of mine invited us to the O club pool at a military base nearby. They're members, we're not--yet. It was so nice. The kids had a blast swimming with friends, and it was baking hot out, so the pool was perfect. I have that kind of tired that says, "wow, I've been baking in the sun all day." I know I'll sleep well tonight.

I miss the beach days of my childhood...I remember Mom taking us at least once, if not twice a week sometimes in the summer. I wonder if it was because she got a mental break from me yapping at her all the time, because I would get in the water and stay there all day. Literally. Nevertheless, I remember those days fondly, and wish we lived near a beach so my kids could do the same. Give me a mental break from yapping at me all day, that is. Anyway, a good pool day does the trick now and again, kind of like a beach day for city kids. I'll take it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Wild Woods out Back

Daddys are wonderful things to have around. They do wonderful things like cut paths through the briars to allow access to the woods that by this time of year are somewhat inaccessible because of (you guessed it) the briars in the way. So in the process of cutting the path, my little explorers found a box turtle...

which Molly insisted on keeping for a pet. When we told her that the turtle (named Shelly) really had to go back out, there was such grieving that I agreed to keep the thing until tomorrow.

We took a walk to the middle of the patch of woods behind our house, and really, it's all kids need. It's small enough that they can lose themselves in there without ever getting lost. There's plenty of undergrowth to explore, a beautiful covering of foliage, and at the edge, milkweed that supports Tiger Swallowtail and Monarch Butterflies. The kids are thrilled with the paths--not that the lack of them stopped them before. They're just glad they can pass through the briars without getting ripped to shreds. Once past the briars it's a nice walk back into the trees and home again. Molly was sure we were lost, but we made it back--our faithful big-brother guide made sure of it. All two hundred feet (okay, it might have been a little more than that, but not much)...

It was one of those days

When I got to see the world through my children's eyes, and remember what it felt like to be a kid and see things for the first time. A dinosaur skeleton, the Hope Diamond, the insect zoo...all things I remember seeing for the first time and feeling a thrill about...well, not really the Hope Diamond. I don't know what I was expecting, but it seemed very small--when people say things like, "the largest blah-blah in the world!" I'm expecting something really huge in relation to ME. I felt like the boy I overheard the other day, "It's just an expensive necklace!" I think the little man was rather "underwhelmed" about it, too.

We began the day by rescuing Daddy from the monotony of bureaucracy, then went to the National Museum of Natural History. We ate a hideously expensive, not-so-tasty lunch, but then it was all up from there!
From the elephant in the rotunda to the butterfly pavilion, we were all taken with the sights and experiences. The butterfly pavilion was our favorite, having just done our butterfly experiment in science.

We were also quite taken with the water striders and the water boatmen. Matty and I love to read poems for two voices about these two interesting creatures.

We finished the day with some of our favorite food from the Lebanese Taverna Market in Arlington. We brought home two very tired kiddos and put them in their bed. The day was done, practically perfect.